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  #61  
Old 24 Oct 2010
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Progress after Day 10. Mwene-Ditu

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Old 24 Oct 2010
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Day 11

When we are leaving Mwene-Ditu the next morning we are stopped by a manifestation. It is a burial. A body is carried in the front of the large group of people. Behind it are weeping women and shouting men. Some of the youngsters are pumped up and when they spot us they draw their attention to us. We are not sure why they were angry at us, but we did not stay around to ask them.

We get stopped again at a police checkpoint. They ask us to pay the "Tax provincial". There is no such thing and we explain it them. They are the sleazy kind of police and our discussions are getting nowhere. They keep asking for money and make some discriminating comments towards us. After half an hour of this I lose it.

"J'EN AI MARRE" - "I'VE HAD ENOUGH"

I shout so loud that even Josephine looks scared at me. She would later tell me that my eyes had turned as red as my face and that I looked very, very dangerous. Complete and utter silence follows for a few minutes. After which one of the police officers asks me for money again. Luckily one of the other officers was more impresed by my shouting and had opened the gate. We blasted off.

I was really starting to get sick of getting extorted by every one we met.

I hadn't returned to normal before we were stopped again. This time it was a toll booth. The usual cadeaux/jus were asked to which I replied in a not so polite manner. The actual toll we had to pay. Foreigners had to pay 10 times the fee of the Congolese. I got out of the car and told them what I thought about corruption in Congo and why I thought nothing was working here. A 10 minute monologue. They were not impressed but I was happy I got it of my heart. We paid the stupid tax. It was an official thing and we got a receipt.

Between Mwene-Ditu and Mbuji-Mayi there is an asphalt road!





So, why is there an asphalt road in the middle of Congo? Not connected to the rest of the road system (due to lack of road system).

There reason is simple: Diamonds. This is the main diamond center of Congo. This has attracted many people ofcourse, but the local people barely benefit of the natural wealth of the region. Officially it is the third largest city of Congo, after Kinshasa & Lubumbashi. Although by now it is probably the second largest city with over 2 million inhabitants. It also a politically important region. Most of the recent political problems start here. When Mbuji-Mayi "blows" the rest of the country usually follows shortly after.

The diamong mining companies ofcourse need transport. Most is done via air, but the heavy supplies (fuel) are brought in by train. The nearest train station is in Mwene-Ditu. Hence the tar road between Mwene-Ditu and Mbuji-Mayi.

It makes a great place to walk on... few cars in the area, so there is little traffic.



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Old 24 Oct 2010
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As mentioned before, problems in Congo usually start here, in Mbuji-Mayi. It has the reputation of "une ville chaud" - "a hot town / a heated town". Were hot refers to both the climate, as to the atmosphere. Literally everybody we met told us to avoid the city if at all possible. It should be home to some of the worst police and is generally considered unsafe.

It is true that the climate is really hot and sticky. Tropical climate at its best. The humidity seems to drive everybody nuts.

But we needed fuel. Via the friends we made in Lubumbashi we had the phone number of a Belgian guy who works here in Mbuji-Mayi for CTB (Belgian aid). We don't know him, and he does not even know we exist.

We gave him a call and explained the situation. He agreed to help us out and we were supposed to meet eachother a the filling station in the center of town.

The atmosphere in Mbuji-Mayi is impossible to describe. It seems like nobody here has normal discussions. Only heated discussions. You can hear it in their voice, as if they are constantly angry at each other. We saw a few fights when driving trough town. We negotiated a dozen or so police checks before we arrive at the Total filling station. It's the first real 'pump' we see since leaving Lubumbashi. We fill up and leave a staggering amount of cash behind (2$US/liter).

10 minutes later a Landcruiser with a Mundele in it stops, we quickly shake hands and Christian quickly introduces himself. Equally quickly we drive off again. We follow him into the compound of CTB. They have a nice office here, with bathroom and all. Unfortunately the water system is down for two weeks now, so no water. Christian has a day off today and already made plans for the day, so he cannot stay with us. But we are free to camp in the compound and use their facilities. They have two "guardiens" (guards). Christians recommends us to stay inside.

We are thirsty so we ignore Christian's advice and go out on foot to find us a cold . Plenty of bars here. It takes a bit of negotiating before they let us take the with us. It is in glass, and they need to recover the empty bottles. We have to pay a deposit and promise to bring the glass back.

People who visited the Congo's will surely recognize the "Skol' brand. Not a bad actually. There is a brewery in Mbujy-Mayi and only the s that are brewed here have the diamond in the logo.



That night we lay in our tent, looking at the stars and listening to the sound of the city. It does not sound like any other city at night. We hear heated discussions and a few fights. Also some gun shots.
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Old 24 Oct 2010
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Progress after day 11. Mbuji-Mayi

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Old 24 Oct 2010
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Day 12

We did not want to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time when leaving Mbuji-Mayi. As "the wrong time" takes about whole day long here, we ask one of the guardiens at CTB to guide us out of town. The road to Kananga, our goal for this day, is not really connected to the city. The neverending expension of Mbuji-Mayi has swallowed the road and now one has to drive trough the kilometers of shacks to get to city end.

Once again we are asked to pay toll, we do not complain too much this time as the previous toll had brought us a nice tar road. Not so this time. The road was not horrible, but it was not exactly good either. It certainly wasn't maintained. The scenery on the other hand was stunning. It was great to finally see a bit around us as we were usually stuck in dense jungle or high grass.







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  #66  
Old 24 Oct 2010
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The going is though and slow. About 50km before Kananga to road is blocked. The bridge is gone.



This happened very recently. People there pointed us to a detour. We had to take bicycle tracks all the way to Kamwanda (+- 30km) where there is another bridge and then continue from there.

We set off on a much to narrow track trough dense jungle.



It was getting late already and we were not sure if we would make it to Kananga today. Depending on the state of the bicycle tracks, we would have to stay in a village again.

The first village we encountered seemed deserted at first, but as soon as we entered the village we saw people coming at us from all sides. They had machetes and sticks and were shouting. "Des Blanc. Argent!" - "White people. Money!". They were all over the place. This was not good! I floored it and sped out of the village. A rock hit the back of our car.

What in gods name was that all about?

Very few Congolese had made us feel welcome now, but this was plain agression! It scared the hell out of us.

We passed another village, and once again a mob formed as soon as they heard us coming. Machetes flying round, racist slogans shanted. Once again we did not give them the chance to get near us and blasted out of the village. They tried following us. This was turning ugly, if we would get stuck here we would be in big trouble, these people did not want a chat!

With half an hour of daylight left we knew we had a problem. We tried sending our coordinates to the homefront with the instructions to call the embassy if they did not hear from us within the hour. Despite us having bought SIM cards of the two major GSM operators, we did not have reception.

With our hearts racing we neared another village.
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  #67  
Old 24 Oct 2010
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Hey,

What a fantastic read! I'm thinking about doing something alike, but I don't know about Congo, though.

Keep it coming!
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Old 25 Oct 2010
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Now seems like a good time to pause the report :twisted: and have a little flashback to the period before we entered the DRC.

We made the decision to tackle this part of DRC when we were in Egypt. It would take us about 4 months to drive from Cairo down to the Zambia/DRC border. We immediately started our quest for information. It would soon become clear that very little information was available. We did not know of a single traveller that did this traject in the lat 20 years. We knew of two who tried (both on motorbikes) in recent years. One crashed after a few days and got evacuated. The other got arrested and deported. Both didn't get very far.

So we had to be creative and think of other sources of information. A small overview of some of the responses we received from different instances we contacted

1) MONUC. The UN mission in DRC (United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ). They have almost 20.000 people on the ground, they must have some information. Actualy their website has some useful information.

We contacted the "Cellule Infrastructure" and received the following reply (excerpts):

Quote:
Originally Posted by MONUC
Malheureusement, le tronçon que vous mentionnez: Likasi - Mwene Ditu est considéré a notre niveau comme impraticable. Nous n'avons pas eu d'informations détaillée depuis longtemps, mais il faut considérer que depuis environ 15 ans il n'y a pas eu d'opération importante d'entretien sur cet axe.
"Unfortunately, the stretch between Likasi-Mwene Ditu is, from our part, considered impossible. We did not receive any detailed information for a long time. One has to consider that no maintenace has been done on this traject in the last 15 years."

This stretch we already passed by now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MONUC
Concernant la rivière Loange, le bac n'est pas en service et il n'y a pas de pont. Les infos dont nous disposons mentionnent que la traversée de quelques marchandises se fait en pirogue. Peut être est il possible de faire traverser un véhicule en faisant un radeau avec qq pirogues, mais rien n'est moins sûr.
"Concering the Loange river, the ferry is not operational and there is no bridge. According to our latest information the transport of goods is done by pirogue (canoe?). Maybe there is a possibiliy to cross with a vehicle by buidling a vessel with several pirogues. But nothing is certain"

We still haven't reached the Loange river... great prospect ;-)

And then the most worrying bit:

Quote:
Certains tronçons sont infestés des coupeurs de route, il s’agit des tronçons : Likasi-Kolwezi et Tshikapa-Kananga
"Certain parts are infested with 'coupeurs de route' (Coupeur de route - Wikipédia), especially the following parts: Likasi-Kolwezi and Tshikapa-Kananga"

These 'Coupeurs de route' are lawless gangs. 'Road bandits'. They have a nasty reputation in that they have little value for human life. Rape is a common working method for them.

These people I wanted to avoid. On the other hand, one has to read between the lines here, and it was pretty obvious to me: monuc did not have a clue what was going on in the area. They just did not have reliable and up to date information. Do note that monuc is mostly active in East Congo (Goma, Kisangani,..) not in the more 'stable' south/south-west were we are travelling trough.

2) Coca-cola company: If there is ony thing you can find anywhere in the world it is Coca-Cola. They should know how to get their goods in the country. We had no response on mails, so we called them up. Their answer was pretty short: They do not have a distribution network outside the major cities in Congo 8O And it proved to be true, Congo is the first country we have visited were Coca-cola is hard to get once you leave the major cities.

3) About a dozen of NGO's, all answers were negative: they did not have any information

4) Journalists from press agencies and the author from the only guidebooks that exists on the DRC (Sean Rorison): We received a few interesting adresses and contacts in cities, but nothing on the roads. They only travel by air. From a few journalist we received warning on recent events of aggressive attacke by "coupeurs de route" in the area between Kananga and Tshikapa.

5) Foreign affairs office of our own country and several other countries (US, France, ..): they told us we would die if we only thought about the DRC ;-)

6) The Congolese "Office des routes". I was not expecting an answer from them, but they did reply! From a personal mailadres somebody from the Congolese ministry told me that they had no information whatsoever on the condition of their road network. But they would appreciate any information that we could obtain!

The moral of the story was: nobody knew anything about the road conditions. The worrying bit were the "coupeurs de route". Different sources talked about them, and always in the Kananga-Tshikapi area. This seemed like the area to avoid. We had already decided to drive to Kananga but then go north from there to Ilebo as to avoid the Kananga-Tshikapi area.

In my last post I told we had to make a detour because a bridge was out. Guess in what area that brought us?
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Last edited by 2cvfred; 25 Oct 2010 at 14:22. Reason: Had to remove some accents or the post was not accepted
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Old 25 Oct 2010
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With our hearts racing we neared another village.

We tried to sneak in the village but failed miserably. Same thing happened again, confused looks at first, as soon as they saw us they shouted at eachother and then came storming after us.

What did we do to these people that they wanted us so badly?

Like thieves in the night we raced trough the bush and stopped as soon as we had cell phone reception. We sent our coordinates home and called our Belgian friends in Lubumbashi to see if they could give us a contact in Kananga. They responded quickly (Thanks Valérie!) with a phone number of the "procure" (mission) in Kananga. But no answer there... :-(

From what we saw on the GPS it would be at least another 2 hours before we would arrive in Kananga. It was getting really dark by now. We had no choice, we had to reach Kananga!

These were some of the scariest moments in my life. Everybody we crossed here was mad at us. We sent our coordinates to the home front every 10 minutes or so.

Relentlesly we continued. It got pitch dark and the road was really difficult. We could not afford to make mistakes now, but we also did not feel like getting out of the car to inspect any obstacles. The dark was actually good for us as people would not see that we are white. This seemed to make a major difference in the reaction of the people.

But we made it. We were so happy to reach Kananga and at the same time scared to death that people would react the same here. Fortunately the town was quiet and actually looked friendly in the moonlight. Due to pure luck we drove straight into the compound of the procure and at that into safety.

The friendly father-abt allowed us to camp in the garden. He looked genuinely surprised if we told him about our bad experience but at the same time it was as if he was avoiding the subject too.

We put up the tent, got out our chairs and opened one of our "emergency s". We just sat there a long time without saying a word to eachother. The sky was beautiful and the sounds of all the insects was magnificent.
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Old 25 Oct 2010
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So, what was that all about?

In all honesty, we don't have a clue! I only know that this ranks very high in my top 10 scariest moments. Everybody has their limits, well this was over mine. I do not want this to happen to me again.

- Where we just panicking for no reason, paranoid by all the (mis)information we received? Did we create the danger in our minds?

Maybe, I really can't tell. We discussed this afterwards, and we did not make up those mobs that charged at us. They had machetes. They did chase us.

We have a few theories though:

- These villages were on a newly created "detour". Normally no motorized traffic would pass trough here. Bicycles only. Maybe they saw this as new way to generate money, and they wanted their part of the cake. Although somebody should explain to them that this is not a good way to ask for a toll fee.

- We had the feeling that they were focussing on us, not only because we were in a vehicle, but because of our skin color. Did a white person do something wrong here? Where they trying to seek vengeance? I wouldn't surprise me if a white person in car ran somebody over, or destroyed something and then fled away.

- Some fetish reason. Witchdoctors have a lot of influence here. If they had casted a spell of some sorts. Or predicted that something bad would happend if a white person would pass trough here.

- ...

I guess we will never know.
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Progress after day 12. Kananga

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Day 13

This was the half way point and up until now we at least had minimal information on what was ahead of us. That would end here. The only thing we knew was that the bac (ferry) at Tshikapa was not working - confirmed here in Kananga - and that the road to Tshikipa was not only suspect for "coupeurs de route" but also in a horrible state (mud!).

The alternative was to go north from here to Ilebo were apparantly there was a ferry. And worst case we could try to put the car on a boat on the Congo river to Kinshasa. Nobody here in Kananga had gone all the way to Ilebo by car. Until about halfway there were some missions, but they were considered 'cut off' due to the state of the roads. Especially the last part of the road into Ilebo was said to be impossible.

But most of it was hearsay anyway. People don't travel much overland here.

We were halfway and it looked like what we just did was the easy part...

Yesterday's events had gotten us exhausted and we decided to stay for a day in the safetey of the procure. We tried to get some sleep and do some cleaning up in the car. I also had to tape/bolt various bits and pieces back to the car.



Staying at the procure also gave us the opportunity to meet some interesting people. They also had their own radio station. Because they had a huge antenna this was one of the most important radio stations in the area. For a lot of people the radio was their only means of information from the outside world. They were well equipped and the radio crew was young and extremely motivated.

They did an interview with us, but we asked them not to air the interview immediately but instead wait 4 days. If it would be aired immediately it would be a matter of minutes before the entire police force came for their "share". Also with yesterdays events in the back of our mind, we wanted to keep the aspect of surprise.

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Old 25 Oct 2010
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Day 14

Kananga looked like a beautiful - but rundown -city, but we did not really visit anything. At this point we just wanted to stay low profile and keep moving.

We set of direction Ilebo, not knowing what to expect. The roads has a bit of an erosion problem



On the above picture you can clearly see where our axle was touching the middelmanetjie.



This was all jolly good if both tracks erored equally. This was not always the case and we got into a habit of driving at some extreme angle. Often scraping the sidewalls.





How long ago was it that road was actually "up there" where the grass is.
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Old 25 Oct 2010
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Thanks for this exelent post!!!!
Respect!
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Great yarn, Fred. I'm going to post a link to it in the SA4x4community's overland forum section.

Tony
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